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Dayhoff: Westminster community Christmas celebrations a longstanding tradition

Dayhoff: Westminster community Christmas celebrations a longstanding tradition
Santa Claus is greeted by Westminster Mayor Mathias and community leaders at Santa’s house on Locust Lane in downtown Westminster in this undated photo from around 1960. Courtesy of the Babylon family. (Courtesy Babylon family)

There is a rich history and tradition of celebrating Christmas in Carroll County. The city’s Christmas festivities took place at “The Forks” at West Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue well into the 1950s; which at the time was considered to be the center of the downtown business district.

Much more research is needed to determine when the community Christmas celebration moved to Locust Lane across from where the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library is located today.

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I recall the community Christmas festivities taking place at “The Forks” well into the 1950s. I remember it taking place at the western end of town because our family had to walk to the other end of town to attend the Christmas tree lighting. We lived behind the Samios Food Market at the intersection of Washington Road and East Green Street. The store was demolished many years ago, but it was located next to where Jim Breuer’s Maggie’s Restaurant is located today.

Moving the annual Christmas festivities to Locust Lane was good stuff because we did not have to walk as far. One of my favorite memories was captured in an undated photograph found many years later in our family papers. The photographer is unknown. The photograph is probably from the late 1950s or early 1960s.

The gentlemen in the picture have been identified as best as possible, in part, from an interview with my late father-in-law, David Babylon Jr., on Jan. 20, 2002. Council President Babylon served on the Westminster Common Council from May 11, 1964 to May 19, 1989.

Left to right in the front is an unidentified child; immediately to Santa’s right, our left, is Andy Dietrich, the manager of Coffman Fisher. Santa Claus was probably played by Kale Mathias. Mayor Joseph L. Mathias is shaking hands with Santa Claus. Immediately behind the handshake is Paul Wimert, the husband of Gladys Wimert and the manager of Mather’s.

In the back, from left to right: is Harry Starr standing behind Andy Dietrich. He was the manager of Gorsuch and Little. The next individual is the gentleman who is pictured with glasses and without a hat. He looks very familiar, but sadly remains unidentified. The next gentleman, who is almost obscured by Santa Claus, also looks familiar but unfortunately he is also unidentified. On the end is Atlee Wampler representing the Westminster Retail Merchants Association.

Over 100 years earlier, on January 6, 1866, Mary Bostwick Shellman (1849-1938) submitted school work at the Female Collegiate and Male Academic Institute located in a brick building which still stands at the entrance to the Westminster Cemetery, in which she mentions: “We have the library dressed beautifully.” The library, at the time, was established in 1863 and located in the Odd Fellow’s Hall at 140 East Main Street which was dedicated in 1858. In a letter written by Shellman on Jan. 2, 1867, she mentions Santa Claus, which had, by the 1860s, become a fixture of the holidays.

In Westminster, a newspaper article from Dec. 19, 1896, notes the use of electric lights used for Christmas decorations: “Never before have the merchants of Westminster made such elaborate preparations for Christmas as they have done this year.”

One of the earliest references to a Community Christmas Tree Lighting in Westminster is found in a history of the Westminster Women’s Club. It was Dec. 20, 1928.

On Dec. 26, 1947 the Democratic Advocate carried an article about a parade consisting of the newly organized Molleville Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Also participating in the parade was Carroll Post No. 31 American Legion, and the Jerome D. Day Post of the 29th Division Association. The parade ended at the "forks" where the community Christmas tree was lighted by Mayor Joseph L. Mathias. Christmas carols, led by councilmember F. Kale Mathias, were sung by the community. Children under 12 each received a box of candy, orange and noisemaker.

More research is needed to determine when the tradition of the mayor distributing a stocking with oranges and candy was discontinued, but I remember it as late as the 1960s. The earliest account of Westminster distributing presents is found in the American Sentinel on December 25, 1897.

An article in the Democratic Advocate on December 3, 1948, mentions the Kiwanis Club sponsoring a Children's Christmas Party in the Carroll Theater on Dec. 19, 1948.

Today, we continue to enjoy many community traditions that have carefully been carried on by the current Carroll County Board of Commissioners and the Westminster Mayor and Common Council. As the year comes to a close it is only appropriate to thank our local business leaders, and our elected and appointed officials for all their hard work for our community. Merry Christmas.

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